That bang, bang, banging heard throughout the bakery is the sound of money flying out the window. When metal clashes with metal, that clanging means something is going to ding, dent, warp or bend over time, and that’s when cash registers — and often workers’ ears — start to ring.

Fortunately, with nimble robotics, gentler pan handling and advances in metallurgy, pans quietly hold their shape longer. And while pan design may not be exactly rocket science, it certainly involves a foundation of physics, mathematics and chemistry that has extended their life over time.

In fact, consider this smart formula that’s relatively easy to understand: Less mass plus enhanced conductivity equals greater profitability. Add it all up? Today’s stronger, lighter and often bigger pans also bake better than ever.

This didn’t occur overnight, but it did happen, said Jason Tingley, vice-president, American Pan, a Bundy Baking Solution. Bakers can, in part, thank the auto industry for progress in pan technology.

“What’s changed is the design of pan materials,” he said. “This concept of using more intelligent, fully designed materials started eight years ago and continues to expand. With these higher tech materials that have become available as a result of research and development from automotive industry, we can design pans with these custom, high-strength steels. We can take as much mass out as possible, which makes the pans more efficient on the baking and cooling side and provides significant savings.”

To make his point, Mr. Tingley suggested simple subtraction involving the ePan with 30% less mass than its conventional counterpart — and the e2Pan with up to 50% less weight — to see what happens when it comes to baking more efficiently.

“If you take 50% of the mass out of an average bun-and-roll set, you can easily eliminate 10,000 lbs of steel that does not need to be heated, conveyed or cooled and realize significant energy savings,” he said. “Energy-saving pans made from new, high-strength steel have been the most important development in baking pans. Nothing else like it in the past 50 years has been so successful and important, and a lot of people are still not aware of it, so they’re still using heavy pans when there are other options that are more efficient.”

This year, Industrial Bakeware Co. (IBCO) introduced the T8 pan design for bread pans.

“The strapping is its key innovation that improves the stacking of pans, decreases the floor space required and provides more effective handling, thereby preventing sliding of pans, which can cause damage to rims, bases and coating,” noted Dan Cochrane, IBCO managing director. “By preventing the ineffective stacking of pans, the lifespan and the internal coating can be extended.”

From an automatic pan-handling perspective, its nesting, rigidness and weight affect stacking and unstacking the most.

“The nesting features will dictate stack stability and prevent inadvertent contact of the interior of the pan cavity with the next pan in the stack,” said Aaron Burke, territory manager, GTA/Western Canada, ABI Ltd. “The rigidity of the pan will determine its life expectancy in the automated environment. A rigid pan can be picked and placed far more precisely than a warped or weakened pan.”

He added rigidity, in combination with the nesting feature design, will also determine the height of the stack, ensuring that the bottom-most pan will not deform under the stack weight.

Shorter baking time
Inside the oven, Mr. Tingley said, American Pan’s ePans typically decrease a 9-minute bake time by about 40 seconds.

“When you put less mass through the oven, one of two things is going to happen — either you’re going to shorten the baking time and speed up the belt or conveyor, or you’re reducing the overall temperature in the oven,” he observed. “We estimate the pan pays for itself within its lifespan through energy savings alone.”

With lighter, more durable pans coupled with gentler handling, Mr. Tingley added that the company’s pan straightening business has declined dramatically — down to half the volume of a few years ago. Likewise, coatings have become more resilient.

“We used to get 300 releases on average for glaze, and now it’s 600 releases,” he added.

IBCO provides weight reduction designs such as perforations in the strapping and lighter gauge Alusteel with reinforcements. Mr. Cochrane said the company also relies on an external black substrate coating application to increase pan heat absorptivity and bake performance and to improve oven efficiencies.

Unlike a decade ago, almost every pan material used by American Pan now comes custom-produced from the mill. Although the metals’ chemistry and the process for making these pans remains proprietary, Mr. Tingley estimated today’s high-strength materials are 2.5 times stronger than a forming steel used in the past.

When designing pans, a panoply of other priorities plays a role.

“We want to understand the process and any related issues,” Mr. Tingley said. “We need to understand how the pans are being used and how they’re being washed. We need to understand the operational side. We love to hear any issues our customers have.”

He often inquires if pans are wearing too quickly or if there are consistent damage points or damage on the pans.

“If we can get into that loop, we can design pans that address any issues they had in the past,” Mr. Tingley noted.

Mr. Cochrane said IBCO relies on multiple tools — 3-D scanning, modeling and printing — to streamline the product development process into days that had taken weeks in the past.

Despite such progress, pan-stacking, unstacking and storage remain a critical concern in many operations.

“One of the challenges we constantly see at bakeries is effective pan handling on lines running multiple bread products,” Mr. Cochrane said. “Product changes can cause damage to the pan substrate as well as the coating. While bun tray designs are being successfully stacked through innovative designs, we see that tin bread pan sets are still subject to either bad pan management or ineffective stacking techniques.”

Pan design is also affected by how high they are stacked when stored — in some cases 80 pans or more atop of one another — and whether they are stacked face up or face down.

“We need to select the right materials and overall construction features to ensure the appropriate strength,” Mr. Tingley said. “We test pans in simulated bakery conditions to choose the best material, band and special strengthening features like structural ribs to provide ultimate durability.”

IBCO relies on deep-drawn Alusteel for pans with specific depth, design and radius specifications, but that’s not the only option.

“Ultimately, we try to include the bakery management in the design process to better understand the baking conditions,” Mr. Cochrane explained. “The pan material choice goes hand-in-hand with what the customer requires as an end-product and what our specific tooling design technologies can create.”

Over the years, bun pans have become significantly larger — some up to 4-square-feet — and this allows production lines to run smoother and slower with the same throughput that reduces overall wear and tear on the production line. As a result, material selection as well as rim and band styles must be designed to support the greater weight.

“We design the pans to the specific pan-handling system that’s being used in the bakery,” Mr. Tingley said. “In the best scenario, we are working with the pan-handling equipment suppliers. It doesn’t need to be a deep conversation. We just need to get specifics on how the pans are going to be supported, stacked and moved around the bakery, and from those specifics, we can design them properly.”

Over the years, Mr. Burke noted labor reduction and injury prevention have driven innovation in automatic pan handling. Most recently, ABI’s focus on advancing the technology for pan handling have been primarily geared toward integrating vision, quick-change tooling and robotics. Vision systems first identify pan size and configuration to confirm the right tool selection or detect if product got stuck after depanning that could result in improper stacking. Quick-change tooling then allows bakers to switch to the proper end-of-arm tool for different pan styles. A “recipe” system automatically chooses magnets, grips or other tools based on feedback from the vision system or other pan identification applications.

But there are restrictions.

“Space limitations still restrict the use of robotics in many cases,” Mr. Burke said. “However, as robot footprints grow smaller and collaborative robot payloads increase, the use of robots, in our estimation, will become far more commonplace.”

Mr. Burke added that space is “the scarcest resource in any bakery.” As a result, pan-handling systems must be designed to shrink their footprint without sacrificing functionality or flexibility. Going vertical in stacking/unstacking reduces the cumbersome space allocated to pan storage.

When it comes to pans, designing, making and storing them have become a science of their own.